How Snowboarder Megan Pischke Porcheron Beat Breast Cancer
"I was way more prepared, but did I ever think that someday it would be me?" asked pro snowboarder Megan Pischke Porcheron. "Never. I knew the statistics. I knew the stories. But not once did I think I would be one of those women. I never lived that way."
When Porcheron, 44, was diagnosed with stage-3 breast cancer in October 2012 and became one of those women, she decided to chronicle her experience with chemotherapy treatments and cold cap therapy, an alternative treatment she'd read could save her hair.
The result? After nearly two years of filming and editing, "Chasing Sunshine," a documentary presented by the action sports non-profit Boarding For Breast Cancer (B4BC) and The North Face, will premiere Wednesday, Jan. 21, at the Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colo., in conjunction with the X Games. "I felt really vulnerable at first, putting myself out there like this," Porcheron said. "But I wanted to film my experience and share it with my community. Let them know if the cold caps worked, and let them know if they didn't."
Porcheron began building her relationship with the breast cancer community long before her October 2012 diagnosis. As a professional snowboarder in 1998, she started serving as a wellness ambassador for B4BC, an organization formed in 1996 by Lisa Hudson, Kathleen Gasperini and pro snowboarders Tina Basich and Shannon Dunn, all good friends of Porcheron's.
Back then, she and pro snowboarder Barrett Christy were holding snowboard and yoga retreats at Vail Resort and began utilizing the weeklong events as B4BC fundraisers. Over the years, the retreats became a regular part of the B4BC schedule, with snowboard and ski camps in the winter and surf camps in the summer. During that time, Porcheron provided scholarships for more than 35 breast cancer survivors to attend the camps.
In September 2012, she hosted a surf retreat in southern California. The day after the camp, she met with Hudson and B4BC president Erika Seward in Redondo Beach. "I remember her telling us that she wanted to do more," Seward said. "She wanted to make a bigger impact."
"I remember that conversation," Porcheron said. "I was like, 'What can I do? How can I do more?' A few weeks later, I was given an answer -- I was given cancer. I thought of all the faces of young girls I'd met over the years who were told, 'This isn't good,' and they made it.' I was like, 'Okay, if they can do this, so can I.' I won't have a doctor tell me I don't have a chance."
Porcheron had always felt a connection to the B4BC community and had taken strength from their stories; now she wanted to use her experience to give back to them. A friend had told her about cold cap therapy, in which patients wear caps frozen to between -15 to -40 degrees Fahrenehit before, during and after chemotherapy treatments for about three to four hours to narrow the blood vessels in the scalp, reduce blood flow and reduce the amount of chemotherapy that reaches the hair follicles. With less chemo in the follicles, less hair is likely to fall out. (For the record, cold cap therapy is an experimental method and not yet approved by the FDA.)
Everything she read seemed promising, but because Porcheron and her husband, pro snowboarder David Carreon Porcheron, live in Canada, the treatment was difficult to obtain and considered controversial by many doctors. Porcheron said she was the first patient at the BC Cancer Research Center in Vancouver to use the treatment. "I wanted to do this openly, to make it easier for the next woman, but it was difficult," she said. "Some of the things people had to say destroyed me. They said I was crazy, that I was vain. But if there was a way to keep my hair, to look normal on the outside and feel normal on the inside, I thought life would seem more normal. I wanted that for my children. I would look less sick. There was a mentality that came with keeping my hair that I found really empowering."
Not to give away the ending, but for Porcheron, the treatments worked. She finished chemotherapy with her long, dark locks intact and began the next phase of her recovery. In April 2014, she shot an ending to her film at a doctor's visit when she received the results of a blood test confirming she was cancer free. "I was feeling so good and so happy," she says. "I thought, 'This is it. Let's wrap it up.' I wanted a positive story. I'm the story people want to hear because there's hope when at the beginning, I wasn't given a lot of hope."